So much has been said and written about the “Dima Yakovlev” law, named after a Russian boy who was adopted by an American family and later died as a result of an accident, which bans the adoption of Russian children by U.S. citizens, yet, very little attention has been paid to the remarks made by Russian president Vladimir Putin about this change in Russian foreign policy towards adoption by foreign citizens. In commenting upon the legislation, President Putin said, “Russia can and must do more to take care of its own”, while at the same time hailing new legal reforms designed to improve institutionalized care for orphans currently housed in state run orphanages. The law, formally known as the “Measures against persons involved in abuse of fundamental human rights and freedoms including those of Russian citizens”, bans visits to Russia of U.S. citizens involved in human rights violations towards Russian citizens, and persons who commit or have involvement with crimes against Russian citizens.
The new law, which was signed by President Putin on December 28, suspends the activities of all non-governmental organizations, also known as NGOs, which receive donations of money or property from U.S. citizens, effectively shutting them down, as well as those organizations which were established solely to facilitate adoption of Russian children by U.S. citizens. It approves the seizure of assets, and prohibits the disposing of assets, by U.S. citizens barred from visiting Russia, and suspends the activities of all organizations controlled by those prohibited from visiting Russia, as well as the membership of these individuals on boards of directors or other governance bodies. The law also targets American legislators involved in the passage of the “US Magnitsky Act”, judges and prosecutors who pass unlawful sentences on Russian citizens or engage in unlawful prosecution of Russians. Finally, the law will formally ban the adoption of Russian children by U.S. citizens.
Due to the ban on U.S. citizens adopting Russian children, Russia is revoking the inter-country adoptions treaty signed with the United States in Washington, D.C. signed on July 13, 2011. The new Russian law retailiating against the US Magnitsky Act will take effect as soon as it is published. At that time, Russia will notify the United States of the revocation of the adoptions treaty, according to Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov in an interview with the Interfax news agency. “The anti-Magnitsky Act bill, which has already been signed into law by the president, will come into force as soon as it is published on the president’s website and in Rossiiskaya Gazeta (a Russian newspaper)”, said Peskov. Immediately after, “Russia will notify the U.S. of its decision to revoke the child adoption agreement. The agreement will cease to be in force a year after [the U.S.] is notified of its revocation. But adoption [of Russian children by Americans] will effectively stop starting from Jan. 1”, according to Peskov. He explained that the document itself offers a mechanism for revocation. When asked about the people subject to the anti-Magnitsky law, Peskov said, “this list has been compiled, but will not be published.”
Perhaps this new law will signal a change in the way that Americans view adoption of American children, by Americans. The number of adoptions that were in process, but that have been stopped by Russian legislators, is very tiny: 52 in total. With all the hand-wringing by major media outlets over the adoption ban here in the United States, one would think that this move by the Russian government, to counter what it perceives to be just one more of thousands of legal maneuvers by American politicians to attempt to bully Russia and meddle in its internal affairs, was the equivalent of threatening war with the U.S. In reality, President Putin has done something that has brought more attention to the plight of children currently housed in the state system than any other politician in Russia over the past 40 years.
Investors like William “Bill” Browder, who played a major part of the writing of the Magnitsky Act, and the financial supporters of Browder, like Edmond Safra, whose Trade Development Bank was implicated in the notorious “Iran-Contra Affair”, which was overseen by both Ronald Reagan and Oliver North, are the kind of predatory capitalists that many in both the U.S. and Russia loathe. Mr. Browder has demonstrated a history of picking and choosing those organizations in Russia that he claimed were involved in “fleecing the system”, so long as it led to a personal financial gain for himself, and the front organizations in Russia that he controlled. Browder is notorious in Russia for attempting to acquire extra shares in GAZPROM, with the help of accountant Sergei Magnitsky, at the Russian residential tax rate of 5.5%, versus the 35% rate for foreign investors. It is this matter that led to Browder’s loss of a more than $4 billion dollar investment fund, the seizure of remaining assets by Russian authorities, and the rejection of his visa, and subsequent expulsion, by the Russians.
Bill Browder is now a U.S. ex-patriot, who has resettled in London, England, and it seems a crazy thing that members of Congress would be permitting a citizen of Great Britain to openly lobby for legislation here in the U.S. that could potentially lead to a dramatic, and significant, return to the Cold War politics of the past between the U.S. and Russia. Arizona Senator John McCain (R) told Browder recently “Bill, you are a genuine American hero. Without your unyielding sacrifice, we would not be where we are today.” The fact is that Browder became a British citizen more than a decade ago.
President Putin knows that for too long, too many people in Russia and the United States have made money off the promise of sending Russian children out of the country to the United States, while at the same time, very little was being done by Russians for their own orphans. The Americans who have sought to adopt Russian children are not ordinary Americans; they are the upper-middle class to the wealthy, who would prefer to have a foreign “boutique adoption”, rather than be faced with the challenges of taking on an African-American foster child, or any other dark-skinned child who may have spent years in the U.S. foster care system. The vast majority of prospective American families seeking Russian adoptions are white, and are wanting to adopt a child of the same race; not a child who does not look like them. Consequently, while we as a nation cry about the fact that (boo-hoo!) Americans are going to suffer, all because President Putin and the Russian parliament have decided to end the Russian adoption scam upon the Russian people, the fact is that it is the African-American foster children and other foster children of color have long suffered in the American foster system for unwanted and neglected children, and not a single U.S. television network has mentioned the lack of adoptions for minority foster children since it became public knowledge that the Russians intended to strike back legislatively against the charade that the US Magnitsky Act represents.
Now there are plenty of reasons why American politicians are coming at the Russians right now. Many in the Democratic party and the intelligence community are angry that their assets in Syria have not received the respect that the White House thought would be coming out of not only the regime of Bashar al-Assad, but also the Russians. The United States has complained, not only of the three vetoes cast by Russia in the U.N. Security Council in regards to various resolutions on Syria, but of Russia’s determination to keep from being embroiled in the Syrian conflict on the losing side. Vladimir Putin is correct when he says that he has absolutely no influence with Assad in whether Assad will stay or go. The U.S. has sought a military solution to end the Assad regime, and this was always opposed by Russia, certainly Syria’s most important ally. Only recently have major Russian media outlets begun to speak of the “opposition” in Syria, previously referring to fighters in Syria, who are engaged in combat, “terrorists”, as they have called by Syrian state media. Liberal and hard left NGOs, as well as liberal activists and their organizations, based in the United States, have been demanding that President Obama take action against the Russians for failing to participate in U.S. plans for the Middle East. At the same time, the Russian government has been attempting to broker a resolution to the Syrian conflict in a manner that does not cost them strategically, should the UN eventually approve a solution that harms their foreign policy interest. The U.S. intelligence community believes that they have the Russians on the ropes diplomatically in Syria, and wanted to see a legislative measure that would punish the Russians, knowing that Vladimir Putin has made a triumphant return to power as the president of the Russian Federation.
Not only is this diplomatic breakdown something that the United States did not need at this time, I’m not so certain that the average American dislikes the Russian people, or is wanting increased tensions between the U.S. and Russia. In this battle, GOP leaders in the Senate appear to have sent a shot across the bow, letting it be known that if Congress allows the “fiscal cliff” to cause damage to their spending priorities, they are not afraid to create a crisis that can be exploited by the defense industry here in America. With many defense companies facing layoffs in the New Year, it appeared that the time was right to create a situation that would lead to greater defense spending for the long term. It only proves that their are many political dynamics involved in this diplomatic crisis, and that when looking at the Magnitsky Act, it has to be viewed through the lens of political opportunity on multiple levels.
Personally, I believe that before any more foreign adoptions are approved here in the U.S., we need to find a home for the more than 140,000 American children who currently live in foster care. A good place to start is with those who are complaining the loudest about the Russian ban on U.S. based adoptions of Russian orphans. I say that unless they are willing themselves to either adopt, or find a permanent home for a child in foster care, they are not helping the children here in America; they are only feeding their own egos. Perhaps we can make it a national New Year’s Day resolution to find a home for every foster child in America. If we could do that, we will have done something to make us much prouder as a country than all the political spin that money could ever buy.